Convoys Wharf campaigners propose alternative vision

‘Deptford Is...’ the group campaigning to prevent the development of Convoys Wharf in its proposed form, has unveiled their alternative vision for the site.

Last week, shipbuilding historian Richard Endsor and Deptford boat builder Julian Kingston presented a proposal “to bring shipbuilding back to Deptford's former royal dockyard.” They propose to build a full-scale replica of the Lenox, one of Charles II's warships, which was originally built at the King's Yard in 1678. They say:

Apart from reconnecting Deptford to its maritime history, this project would offer training in traditional crafts and skills, apprenticeships, educational and employment opportunities for local people, as well as creating a tourist attraction to complement neighbouring Royal Greenwich.

The Hermione project, in Rochefort, France, attracts a quarter of a million visitors per year who each pay €15 to see the ship under construction, demonstrating that such a heritage project could be self-sustaining, as well as bringing increased footfall to Deptford town centre, having a hugely beneficial impact on the local economy...  

The reopening of the riverfront walkway should take the opportunity to acknowledge the history of the site by recreating the seven bridges that would originally have crossed the seven openings connecting the dockyard basins and slipways to the river.

We love the idea of a development that celebrates the area’s maritime heritage (although arguably, we’re already pretty well served by maritime Greenwich) and makes better use of the riverside than the what’s currently on the drawing board. If a consortium capable of delivering such a project, was proposing it, we’d be raving about it. But at the moment, it’s just a nice idea, put forward by some enthusiastic and knowledgeable people, not a genuine alternative. They are up against one of the world’s most liquid property developers, who are at an advanced stage of planning and who own the site. The developers aren’t tearing down history; they are building over its foundations. As Kieron Long wrote in the Evening Standard recently:

This isn't just any slice of the river. Convoys Wharf was formerly the King's Yard, built by Henry VIII in 1513 as London's military dock and known across the world. It was the harbour to royal yachts, where Francis Drake was knighted aboard the Golden Hinde in 1581, and where Elizabeth I's Spanish Armada-defeating fleet was built. It is a place of astonishing, nationally important historical significance.

Greenwich, just a mile down-river, with its colonnaded Old Royal Naval College, has become a world heritage site and will officially become a "Royal" borough next year. But it was Deptford that built the boats that made England powerful enough to conceive of and fund that architectural set piece in the first place…

The site today is rather eerie, a huge expanse of concrete with a few Sixties and Eighties warehouses still standing. There are no roads and no sense of how it all once fitted together...

The King's Yard has long lost its Tudor character. Since the Second World War, successive idiotic owners chose to demolish the remaining buildings on the site and fill in the basin and slipways. Most jaw-dropping of all is that in stages between the Sixties and as recently as the Eighties, a Tudor storehouse was demolished and its foundations concreted over so that huge distribution sheds and warehouses could be built.

Hutchison Whampoa proposes to create a development that would represent a major investment in the area, providing new jobs and homes for the borough. The proposals have been watered down from the original master plan and are somewhat uninspired. The transport strategy is deeply flawed and the developers should be asked to do more work on it before consent is granted. River buses are the easy but implausible get-out for every riverside developer. And as English Heritage notes:

The one real attempt that was originally proposed to interpret the site's history in the new development, i.e. the creation of a significant area of public open space that evoked the dockyard basin in front of the Olympia building, has been 'fine-tuned' out of this latest application. In our view, the creation of a tangential link with the river as now proposed is a distant second best relative to the original proposal.

Nonetheless, despite its flaws, Convoys Wharf could be a new destination development, with a cultural space at its heart and a few minor sops to its riverfront setting. At this stage, the best strategy would seem to be to focus on securing better transport links and a better use of the riverside.

[Full disclosure, our day-job employer, Edelman, does some work for News International and its parent company, NewsCorp. News International has a stake in the proposed development by Hutchison Whampoa. Edelman's work for NI / NC is unrelated to this project and views are BC's own.]

38 comments:

kolp said...

I like this bit: "as well as creating a tourist attraction to *complement* neighbouring Royal Greenwich.

More like compete with Greenwich.

darryl said...

How would it *compete* with Greenwich? It's only 10 minutes' walk away.

kolp said...

I suppose opening a Tesco next door to a Sainsbury's is complementing a retail service?

Anyway competition is good!

Brockley Nick said...

"I suppose opening a Tesco next door to a Sainsbury's is complementing a retail service?"

Yes, two similar shops next door to one another are often complementary. That's why shops cluster together on the high street rather than being dispersed equally. Because people are more likely to visit one place if they can also visit the other at the same time.

It's pretty obvious that the two would be complementary. Come for Greenwich, stay for Deptford. And vice versa. Anyway, not that I think Greenwich's tourist authorities need to start factoring this in to their plans any time soon.

Anonymous said...

This is a real once-in-a lifetime opportunity for Lewisham Council to do something really meaningful and insist this site is accorded the attention it deserves. This is not just where over 300 ships were built, its where the East India Company was founded, where John Evelyn lived and built a magnificent garden at Sayes Court, where Trinity House was established, where the first Ark Royal was built, and where Capt. Cook left for the South Seas. I was at the presentation on Friday evening at the Master Shipwrights House (as was Joan Ruddock), true the people that spoke were enthusiastic and knowledgeable, but that doesn't make their ideas inconceivable. As they said, this sort of project has been achieved abroad. Do we really want 3 tower blocks the height of Canary Wharf and visible from everywhere in the area, surrounded by thousands of flats, and like the Royal Arsenal cut-off from the surrounding population and cluttering-up the riverside? Other blogs have shown how the views would be affected, look at Deptford Dame 31st August.

Brockley Nick said...

"the people that spoke were enthusiastic and knowledgeable, but that doesn't make their ideas inconceivable"

I would never want to suggest enthusiasm and knowledge were disqualifiers for successful projects.

My point is that it takes more than that. At this late stage, an alternative plan surely needs backers with money and partners of scale (like the Maritime Museum? Or a firm of architects or civil engineers?).

I would love to be convinced that this was a goer.

Anonymous said...

If we all start talking as if it is 'a goer', then maybe it will be. Part of the problem is the lack of publicity, people simply don't know what is about to be unleashed down in Deptford. And once it is built, its too late. The infrastructure of the dockyard is still there underground. The Georgian dock entrances, the mast pond, the great basin, the double dock. And of course the foundations of Henry's Great Storehouse, which are listed. Uncover it all. Do something exciting for a change.

Anonymous said...

It would be nice if this was treated a little more sensitively than just another meaningless block of flats with tesco, giraffe and waggamama underneath them

kolp said...

It will compete just as much as may complement but the emphasis was on complement, this bemused me.

Tom said...

Kolp - I find it more baffling / bemusing that you insist two neighbouring districts must compete for tourists. It's not a zero-sum game; moreover, Nick's point about retailers (and other industries) clustering is a good one.

kolp said...

Don't be baffled Tom, I made a point about spin, take it or leave it. Shrugs

Rational Plan said...

Well another ship is nice and so is a nice square, but it's not really a realistic programme they have presented is it. no mention of the number of flats they want and how its going to be paid for. Where would all the additional money come from? Who would fund it?

If they expect a developer to pay for it then it needs to be compensated for, either by more flats (not popular) or by a reduction in affordable units.

The developers can only fund so much community compensation, unless of course there is any spare public money sloshing around.

Anonymous said...

Declaration of interest called for - News International (who have submitted bid with H. Whampoa) are a client of which well-known PR company?

aunty kate said...

"Declaration of interest called for. .."

Oh, for goodness sake! This blog is hardly operated by a commercial profiteer. Focus on the real threat - ugly and cheap exploitation of prime riverside land for short-term profit. The real pity is that this is now happening in the recession/depression when politicians are desperate for "investment" at any price.

Brockley Nick said...

@Anonymous - do you have a link to demonstrate NI's stake in this. I'm not clear whether they still have an interest in this project and it was tricky to find an appropriate time to raise the topic with the guys today...

Anyway, if that's the case, yes happy to do a "full disclosure" etc, etc. Please can you post a link to clarify that link?

Danja said...

They are all over the planning docs, Nick. Transpontine posted on this:

http://transpont.blogspot.com/2011/08/who-owns-convoys-wharf.html

It must have been a difficult day at the office. Lucky the MPs are such hapless cross-examiners.

Danja said...

Lucky for NI that is, rather than honesty, truth and justice etc.

Deptford Pudding said...

Instead of going off on a tangent about NI (and yes they are involved in a convoluted way) it might be better to write and object to the plans. Its not too late, info is on the Deptford Is site. If nothing else object to the lack of infrastructure planning. 3,500 homes, nealy 3,000 parking spaces. Shops, hotels, a school (a sop to Lewisham), exhibition spaces, a working wharf (they are compelled to provide). No new roads, no new buses. Just two of the existing old dockyard entrances opened up for access. No jobs for local people. Just a vast dormitory.

Brockley Nick said...

"Instead of going off on a tangent about NI (and yes they are involved in a convoluted way) it might be better to write and object to the plans. Its not too late, info is on the Deptford Is site. If nothing else object to the lack of infrastructure planning. 3,500 homes, nealy 3,000 parking spaces. Shops, hotels, a school (a sop to Lewisham), exhibition spaces, a working wharf (they are compelled to provide). No new roads, no new buses. Just two of the existing old dockyard entrances opened up for access. No jobs for local people. Just a vast dormitory."

This seems like a somewhat contradictory post. As you note, there will be a hotel and commercial space. The Evening Standard article suggests they may try to create a Spitalfields-style market in the middle. Certainly there will be jobs (though arguably there could be more) and certainly it will be more than just a residential (dormitory) development.

Deptford Pudding said...

As I understand the proposals, and I've read the first 100 pages of the 'condensed' version, for commercial property and possible suggestions for a market perhaps in the Olympia building are very tenuous and designed
to placate objections. The wharf will be much reduced in size and moved to the northern edge. Jobs for local people will be minimal. This is an opportunity to create jobs, but I doubt that will happen. The Evening Standard article was typically light and hardly definitive, you'd be better off reading the Shipwrights Palace blog.

Anonymous said...

What will become of the tramps who sit on the anchor on the high street?

Can't they get shipbuilding jobs with the East India company?

Oh wait shipbuilding in Deptford stopped a million years ago.

Anonymous said...

I like the fact Deptford is a steaming s*it hole. Let's keep it that way and focus on what is really important, the value of our houses in Brockley.

TM said...

The only time the value of your house has any relevance is when you sell it and move somewhere cheaper......like Deptford.....to realise a profit.

Or a meringue?

TM said...

The only time the value of your house has any relevance is when you sell it and move somewhere cheaper......like Deptford.....to realise a profit.

Or a meringue?

TM again said...

Why twice I ask?

Anonymous said...

Banality Central

MalB said...

Brockley Nick: "certainly it will be more than just a residential (dormitory) development."

The amount of new jobs it creates (including those in surrounding shops supplying the residents it creates) cannot be anywhere near the number of new residents it accommodates. It is to all extents and purposes a dormitory development.

Many community and residents groups responded critically to the Lewisham Local Development Framework, Spatial (Core Strategy) pointing out that it seemed to regard "more housing" as synonymous with "regeneration" and that this was being rammed down residents' throats. In fact, the first versions of the Preferred Options Report was withdrawn when it was pointed out that it didn't really give any options. The revised version basically gave two: "lots more housing units" and "even more housing units".

Needless to say, the Core Strategy was not rethought and this is the consequence.

Deptford dame said...

True, Convoys Wharf could be a new destination riverside site. But not in its current incarnation, which would be a tired formula which we've seen repeated from one end of London to the other and which offers no acknowledgement of the site's heritage and scant opportunity for the local community.

Transpontine said...

The News International link is slightly tangential. They are still a partner in the development, though exactly how they would make any money out of it is unclear.

But the proposers of alternative schemes are not arguing against any redevelopment of the site, rather they are arguing that the current proposal should be rejected, so that (for instance) developers should be compelled to make allowance for projects which recognise the historical nature of the site.

Not a Fan said...

One other thing to mention is that what they are planning is an eye sore, with no inspiration, maximum profits with no consideration of this gem of a site. In addition to those ridiculous three towers (WHY?), there will be numerous tall oppressive buildings blocking the river on top of parking garages. Inspiring, no? and don't be deceived by the green spaces in the artist rendering - most of those are privately owned gardens on top of the garages.
This is just poor and inspiring planning. And yes, transport plan is a joke. But hey, this is what 'development' is, no?

MalB said...

"There will be numerous tall oppressive buildings blocking the river"

For obvious reasons. Build a few houses with a river view and you will get an enormous amount of money. Build a 300 unit block of flats with a river view and you will get less money per unit but phenomentally more overall. The incidental fact that it blocks off everybody else's enjoyment of the view is neither here nor there. You don't have a right to a view.

Again, many amenity societies argued long and hard against tall buildings right up against the river frontage before and during the establishment of the London Plan. Unsurprisingly, we had no traction at all against the developers who want the profits from the housing demand in London.

Brockley Nick said...

Whose views of the river will be blocked?

Anonymous said...

why not walk down there and have a look?

Brockley Nick said...

I have. That's why I'm asking.

Anonymous said...

Mal, so they should be building fewer flats so only a few can have a view or lots so many can?

MalB said...

Whose views will be blocked?

Those who will live inland of the tower blocks will have their views of the river blocked. Those who live opposite or are taking a boat on the Thames will have their views of anything inland blocked.

MalB said...

Anon: "so they should be building fewer flats so only a few can have a view or lots so many can?"

That is a very binary view. It is possible to design developments so they have the high rises further inland - overall exactly the same number of people in the development will get a view. It just won't block off the view of others so much.

Tamsin said...

Isn't that what was done with a scheme up Richmond way about twenty years ago? Anathema to the architectural elite because it was rather old-fashioned in appearance and did not shriek out the ego of the designer, but nice to live in and an asset to the river.

Brockley Central Label Cloud